Style, storytelling and authentic product are the essential ingredients of Huckberry.com.
It was that vision that prompted co-founders Andy Forch and Richard Greiner to leave careers in the finance industry and create an e-commerce site focused on the outdoor lifestyle. Forch recalled that in 2010, the duo somewhat naively thought: “We’ll quit our jobs, build a website and hope for the ‘Field of Dreams’ style where if we build it, they will come.”
The website they built offers a curated selection of footwear, clothing, outdoor provisions and accessories, and — as one of its most important aspects — editorial content about the gear sold on the site.
Huckberry’s official launch came in 2011, with some early growing pains. “A month after the launch, I got married,” Forch said. “I remember at our wedding, I went around asking everyone to pull out their phones and got them to sign up.”
Based in San Francisco, where VC funding is abundant, Huckberry surprisingly was developed with no borrowed capital. “We’ve gotten to where we are today based on our initial $20,000 personal investment,” said Forch, adding that each partner contributed $10,000. “Along the way, we took out an SBA inventory loan, but outside of that, no equity investments. We are fully bootstrapped.”
Huckberry has made rapid progress. According to Forch, the platform has grown 80 percent over this past calendar year, and its monthly revenues are now in the seven-figure range.
Its footprint has grown as well, to two offices. The official headquarters is in San Francisco, where Huckberry’s buying, creative services, editorial, design and production teams are housed. An additional location in Columbus, Ohio, houses its inventory, along with a small customer service group and finance team. In total, the firm has just over 100 employees steering its continued growth.
When it comes to strategy, Forch and the team emphasize transparency. Executives noted that millennials are eager to know the background of the products they buy. That’s where the site’s storytelling techniques have succeeded.
“There’s this creative class emerging — they’re not wearing suits and black Ferragamo shoes to work every day,” said Forch. “Footwear and watches are a statement piece, and our guys specifically are looking for guidance. They want to know the history of the brand and product. For example, we’ll say, ‘Steve McQueen wore these shoes while making this movie,’ and our guys really pick that up.”
The other operative word for the firm is “curation.”
Senior footwear buyer Mike Idell explained, “Our customers trust us as a retailer and know we’re going to curate the best product.”
Huckberry’s footwear business represents about 20 percent of total revenue, according to the firm. Idell said the top sellers are a mix of upstarts and classics.
“We have some tried-and-true boot brands that we’ve worked with for years, like Chippewa, Danner and Rancourt & Co.,” he said. “But also, Native has become one of the most popular brands with our readers, and Astorflex is an Italian brand that sells really well.”
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The e-tailer’s brand partners applaud its selling tactics. Dominique Morisset, marketing director for Native, said, “They are one of the best online retailers that offers a curated selection of products. Since Native Shoes is primarily a unisex brand, our relationship with Huckberry ensures that we are able to reach their affluent male clientele.”
Will Pennartz, senior marketing manager at Danner, said, “The team there understands how to create and curate high-quality branded content. Recently, we partnered with them to launch our Portland Select boot collection. The result was an authentic, digital campaign that drove Danner brand awareness and ultimately sell-through.”
Exclusives and brand partnerships across all categories are becoming increasingly critical to sales for Huckberry. “The elephant in the room is definitely Amazon,” said Forch. “For us, it’s about exclusive product and serving our niche partners in a way that Walmart and Amazon could never do.”
Rancourt & Co. was one of the first labels Huckberry worked with in crafting a special product, about two years ago. “That was a huge success,” said Ben O’Meara, head of brand partnerships for the site. “We did a limited run of a few hundred boots made in Maine that sold out immediately within two weeks.”
To support the release of products, Huckberry implements marketing campaigns that coincide with product drops. More collaborations are coming, but execs declined to divulge details.
Another key vision down the line is a foray into the women’s category. “In the long term, I believe a Huckberry for women will be amazing, but we have no immediate plans to do anything,” said Forch. “I want to live up to our potential in the men’s business and then add women’s down the line.”